People quickly sense when a speaker unfairly uses the opportunity to ‘sell’ their product or service. This will rebound on them. Audience members don’t like to be ambushed by someone who they recognize is mainly there to deliver a sales pitch. This problem especially tends to happen with consultants. The speaker will talk about a successful case study, but they may leave out some of the key aspects of their strategy to preserve a commercial advantage and they may try to hype up their role. The speaker may feel they are entitled to do this because they are investing valuable hours of preparation and delivery time in their speech, and they may not want competitors to learn too many trade secrets. The lesson from this: offer genuine value when public speaking.
One time I attended the annual national conference of the public relations institute in my country. About 35 speakers were featured over two days. Overall it was an excellent event. But one aspect struck me from comments afterwards by audience members. Attendees recognize when the speaker is holding back information and is plugging their services to potential clients in the audience. And it turns the audience off. They don’t want to hear that a firm is the leader in its field. They do want to hear good practical information they can put into effect for themselves when they return to work. That’s why you need to offer genuine value when public speaking. This applies to yourself as well as anyone else you have acted for as a speechwriter or in drafting a presentation.
The main goals of public speaking are to:
The audience wants genuine, actionable information, and if the speaker won’t provide this, they will prefer to listen to another speaker who will. Since they can already obtain vast amounts of information in seconds via search engines, they become impatient with speakers who don’t offer new information of value.
HubSpot’s Artem Welker has some valuable insights about this in his 2017 article, “Public speaking: the art of selling without selling.”
He says “to be an effective public speaker you have to give something away. Your audience has to come away from your speech with something of value.” Some examples of what you can offer your audience include:
This means you have to give your audience quality content — don’t bore or annoy them. Only then will they care about what else you have to offer.
Such speakers may think they only have limited opportunities to do a pitch, so they may as well go for it when the opportunity arises. But they forget an audience will give them a low score when they fill in their evaluation forms at the end of the program. The event organizers will note the poor result and will rarely invite the speaker back.
Quite often the speaker’s actions will also tarnish the image of their organization in the eyes of the organizers and the audience. Thus the speaker’s attitude will have a lasting negative impact. If you speak at public forums or write scripts for executive speakers, this is something you should always remember.
I will always remember the CEO of the power utility where I worked at one stage. Even though he was an experienced engineer and strategist, he wasn’t wholly convinced about the need to maintain a strong public presence. And he was always busy. So when he gave a press conference, he would just read out the content without much preparation or presentation. It was cringeworthy. Same with speeches. In failing to prepare properly, he let down the organization.
On the other hand, Artem Welker recommends solid preparation for a public speech or presentation. He outlines his preparation: “To develop a one hour presentation, it usually takes me about three days.” This comprises:
The bottom line – take these commitments seriously.
Remember – that’s 3 days of time and attention being taken away from other aspects of your role. Don’t forget the amount of time, energy, anxiety and stress you’ll expend while you are giving your talk, or accompanying the CEO or senior executive who will be speaking.
A more strategic approach is to review your products or service areas in which your firm stands out. Also review the background and experience of your key executives. Some may have expertise in surprising and useful areas. If you (or they) are concerned about airing sensitive information, then don’t accept a speaking opportunity covering those areas!
Document all the relevant strengths and consider topics relating to them that could be aired in the public arena. These topics could already relate to existing strengths or to developing areas in which the speaker or firm is at the leading edge.
By sharing some of this information, the speaker is adding value to the audience’s knowledge and is adding to his or her good reputation and the reputation of their employer.
Spend time with your executive speakers to build up their speaking skills and the content of their presentations. Public speaking is labor-intensive and needs preparation.
There are no silver bullets for being a good public speaker, but the skills can be learned. Any executive who is serious about their career advancement will find the investment of time in effective public speaking will pay great dividends. Their audiences will know they offered genuine value when public speaking.
The presence of COVID variances has ensured the continuing importance of virtual presentations and speeches. A specific range of factors are involved in virtual presentations. My article, “Ten tips for delivering an effective virtual presentation,” will help you to advise, prepare and deliver a presentation or speech in a virtual environment, whether it’s for yourself or another speaker.
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